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A New (and Old) Worldview Divides China's Christians As Communism Fades
Puck Magazine / Library of Congress

The hometown of ancient philosopher Confucius was a surprising place to build a multimillion-dollar megachurch. Yet local leaders hoped Qufu's first official church would integrate Christianity into Chinese culture.

Instead, Confucian scholars condemned the 136-foot-tall project, planned two miles from the long-standing Confucius Temple. They saw it as a concrete symbol of a foreign faith's threatening rise.

The church project was halted in 2011. But as Christianity and Confucianism continue as two of China's fastest-growing belief systems, thinkers on both sides continue to debate their proper relationship.

In March, ChinaSource devoted its academic journal to the topic. Recent symposiums held at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies convened Confucian and Christian scholars for renewed dialogue.

As a result, the two sides are experiencing a "warming of relationship," said David Ro, director of Gordon-Conwell's Center for World Missions and the Lausanne Movement's deputy director for East Asia.

"Only recently are some Christian thinkers in China making a deliberate effort [at] better integration," said Fenggang Yang, director of Purdue University's Center on Religion and Chinese Society.

The timing is ripe, given that Confucian leaders increasingly want their beliefs to define China, and the government seems to want the same, said G. Wright Doyle, director of the Global China Center. Some want Confucianism revived as an official religion, alongside Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism.

But most Chinese see Confucianism as only a "moral system," said Yang. Meanwhile, he argues, churches have sought ...

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